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Home / Latest News / Review: Praxis Makes Perfect, with Neon Neon and National Theatre Wales

Review: Praxis Makes Perfect, with Neon Neon and National Theatre Wales

Inside a warehouse in the heart of Cardiff city centre, the colourful life story of a 20th century Italian publishing giant is being played out.

Drama, video footage and choreography are mixed with a large dollop of live music from Gruff Rhys’ electro-pop outfit Neon Neon to illustrate the world of Giangiacomo Feltrinelli.

The multimillionaire left-wing political activist – who published literary greats like Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago and Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and was found dead in mysterious circumstances in 1972 – is the focus of Neon Neon’s latest concept album, Praxis Makes Perfect.

And now the duo – Rhys and American music producer Boom Bip – have teamed up with National Theatre Wales for this piece of immersive theatre, the exact location for which is revealed when you buy tickets.

As Neon Neon and their band, led by vocalist Lisa Jen Brown, perform sublime tracks from the album, actors provide us with imagined snapshots from Feltrinelli’s life. On top of platforms, which are wheeled among the crowd, the action unfolds.

The journey begins with his fight to get Dr Zhivago published as the Cold War rages before he opens book stores throughout Italy which become hubs for art.

We’re also given an insight into the giddy days of consumerism – cleverly illustrated with Rhys and Brown piling up shopping trollies and crisp notes falling from above as they sing Shopping (I Like To) – and transported to Cuba.

Rhys is such a master storyteller that his lyrics need little illustration but the dialogue by Tim Price, seamlessly interwoven into the performance, really heightens his words. It’s a bit like watching a music video – and a history lesson – come to life before you with the audience becoming part of the story.

There are nods to Price’s other drama for NTW, The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning, as a number of actors playing the leading character and there’s a strong digital focus. Text and images are projected onto steel shutters each side of the warehouse.

Directed by Wils Wilson, there are solid performances from the cast, particularly Matthew Bulgo as he portrays a disheartened Feltrinelli during his fugitive years, and the subtle choreography really adds to this extraordinary piece.

Praxis Makes Perfect is in Cardiff until Sunday. For tickets, call 029 2063 6464

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